60 years is a long time, just ask my dad whose celebrating the milestone later this year. A lot can happen, and in fact a lot did happen since that post-war era with it's moody, atmospheric backdrop. There was also a very famous prison still in operation. And Daedalic Entertainment want to take us back there, to 1954, and, more importantly, back to Alcatraz. As such 1954 Alcatraz (a suitably named title I'm sure you'll agree) is their latest offering in their growing catalogue of Point & Click games.
You play as two protagonists throughout the game, the first of which is the imprisoned Joe, sent down initially for armed robbery, but a successful escape from his first prison landed him a spot in the world's most famous jail. Word's going around in Alcatraz that there's a plan to escape, and Joe wants in. But he's being monitored at all times, and Joe will soon come to realise that not only does every piece of info in Alcatraz have it's price, but also that not everyone on the inside is his friend.
Secondly you play as Christine, Joe's lover on the outside who is doing everything she can to help Joe in his escape attempt, whilst also dealing with the repercussions of Joe's armed robbery. She'll be dealing with the mob and the police in equal measure to keep everyone happy and more importantly far enough out of reach to discover what's really going on.
I won't bore you with the fundamentals of point and click gameplay, because with most games of the genre, they are the same. A combination of items here, using an item on a piece of scenery or person there - it's all fairly standard stuff. As with most Daedalic games, there is the option to have all interactive items/scenery appear at a press of the Space Bar. This speeds up your need to assess and trawl through each screen, but does obviously cheapen the game somewhat. Either way it's up to you, as the "Snoop Key" can be turned on or off in the options menu before starting or loading a game or during play.
The story, for a point and click game is actually very good, and is nicely told and well-paced. And the game is very mindful of the fact that each player doesn't know certain things, and this plays to the story's benefit. As Christine for example, you don't find out exactly what happened during Joe's armed robbery and who was involved until part way through the game, and it's nice the way that despite this restriction on character knowledge doesn't hamper the player's understanding because between what both characters learn, you get the full picture.
What I liked about the game was also the fact that the puzzles weren't linear in the order they needed to be completed. I'm not a fan of Point & Click games that decree a certain order to do things in, as despite the fact that it makes for easier storytelling, it makes the gameplay feel restrained and unoriginal. Luckily for 1954 Alcatraz, whilst certain things need to happen to progress the story, the build up to these critical point scan be tackled in any order. For example outside of a few key points where the two storylines need to directly interact, there is nothing to stop you virtually completing one protagonists side of the story before attempting the other, or you can fleet between them as you please.
However, it would be unfair of me to say that this non-linear approach is executed perfectly. You remember what I said earlier about linear approaches make for easier storytelling? Well the reverse is true for 1954 Alcatraz, in that it's disorderly story allows for plot holes - albeit temporary ones. For example Christine would know to question someone about a particular incident before she had heard about the details of that incident from someone else. There was also a point near the end where Christine miraculously knew what Joe needed her to do, without any communication, because that was all I had left to do. The game didn't really have any other way to tell me that I wasn't done with her storyline without revealing this clue, and I found it jarred a little with the story. In fairness to the game, it only happened these two times whilst I was playing but I noticed them, because both times, I questioned whether I had forgotten something important, only to find out later, I hadn't ever found it yet. It's not guaranteed to happen to you, it depends on how you play through the story, but obviously the non-linear nature of the story allows for issues like mine to creep in, which you may also experience.
A counter argument in favour of the non-linearity of the story however is a wonderfully executed choice system in the game. At various points you will make decisions on things. Sometimes this is just different methods to get to the same end, but other decisions can have much larger impact on how the game plays and the ending sequences too. Decisions can affect the story by getting people killed (or keeping them alive), and can also impact whether or not you garner additional information about some of the background story. But the ace in the hole, is the Love Meter that exists (although it is invisible) between Joe & Christine. Either person can do things that can reduce this Love Meter rating during their time apart, and it affects what decisions you can make at the end of the game which affect the game's outcome. It's a nice touch, that not only encourages replayability in a meaningful way (something you very rarely see in a Point & Click game) but also raises your affinity and respect for the characters and their relationship as you play though the game.
The visuals of this game, as well as the music do deserve special mention. In keeping with the era from which it was made, the game has a suitably moody art style, full of bags of atmosphere. Landscapes and character models are well done in so far as you rarely notice them looking out of place from one another. The character models in particular I loved, with their over-exaggerated features like they were taken straight from a Timesplitters game, absolutely brilliant. A nice feature I took full advantage of is the fact that in the options menu you can switch to "1954 Mode" which waters down the colour palette and puts a visual effect on the screen like you were watching the game as an old film. It's perfectly in keeping with the tone of the game, as is a great optional addition. It's coupled beautifully by the subtle but distinctive musical score, which helps emphasise the atmosphere the visuals create both on the island prison and back in mainland San Francisco.
1954 Alcatraz is currently available on Steam with a full price of £16.98, and at that price it does feel a tad on the expensive side. The game itself will take you 6 or 7 hours to play through first time around, and whilst there is serious draw to play it multiple times to understand the different decision outcomes, especially on the ending, 1954 Alcatraz does still struggle to command that sort of price tag and still be considered good value for money. Despite the decision element, obviously the surprise element and challenge is lost on future playthoughs, and even the changing final outcome might not be enough for some to warrant playing it through again, as as such the price may seem a little steep.
But surely it's all about the experience right, surely if the enjoyment and styling of a game is high, you can command a higher price? Well yes and no, especially in 1954 Alcatraz's case. The first thing that really struck me about the game is that the game developers at Daedalic Entertainment really care about the games they make. They're not in it just to churn out a game, but they think about the setting, the emotions and themes they want to invoke and go for it 100%. I noticed this right away from the opening cinematic scene depicting Joe's backstory about winding up in Alcatraz. And it's reinforced by the music and visuals I mentioned before, even the options screen is animated in a way that feels polished and in keeping with the game's theme.
So far so good then, so what let's it down? Well in short, the game feels like style over substance when you really get down to it. The reason I didn't spend a long time talking about the unique puzzle elements or new and innovative game mechanics is not because I've overlooked them, it's because they don't exist. The puzzling on offer is literally combining items and using them. No minigames or different types of puzzles. And it's not because the game doesn't lend itself to it either. Joe is an engineer and is asked to repair things in the prison, presenting lots of potential opportunities for little minigames which test your logic or reflexes, but the game skips all of that and simply does the potentially interesting bits for you. And it's not like Daedalic haven't managed to do this well before. Memoria, a game I reviewed last year, implemented different spells and abilities well over the course of the entire game, to make you think about your situation in different ways. 1954 Alcatraz has none of that, and as such it just feels like a shadow of the game it could have been.
It doesn't mean of course that 1954 Alcatraz is a bad game, it's a very enjoyable Point & Click game with bags of atmosphere and styling, but unfortunately because it literally is just pointing and clicking with nothing else up it's sleeve, it doesn't ever reach the great heights that it's first impressions nod towards. If you're a fan of the genre, you could do a lot worse than pick this game up, I certainly enjoyed it. You just might want to wait for a sale first.
- Atmospheric setting
- Visually appealing
- Genuine replayabilty
- Variety in order of puzzle solving
- Puzzles on offer are very bland
- Non-linear story can cause plot holes
- Questionable value for money at full price
The Short Version: 1954 Alcatraz is a competent Point & Click game, that through it's non-linear storyline approach and decision element offer an experience that is fun and varied. Throw in an attention to detail to visuals and music and you have a nice little package. The experience is marred however by a lack of creativity in the puzzle department, and plot problems that are caused by it's non-linear design. It's still a decent game overall, but a lower price may be required to encourage most to take the plunge.
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment